(By Richard Luo and Christopher Miti)
SINDA district health medical officer Dr Benard Chimungu says out of the more than 11,000 people in the district that are HIV positive, only 6,000 are on antiretroviral therapy. And Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Chipata district secretary pastor Chilufya Kasongo has urged members of the clergy not to interfere with peoples’ medication even after they pray for them.
During the World AIDS Day observance at Kasamba Primary School on Friday under the theme “Run the last mile, leaving no one behind”, Dr Chimungu challenged communities to get tested and start taking drugs if found positive. He said failure to take drugs put the entire community at risk. Dr Chimungu said as long as 5,000 people that tested positive were not traced and are not on ART, the disease would continue to claim more lives in the communities.
“This disease we are here for is not a joke but a serious challenge that we need to address. For your own information as the district, we have about 11,000 plus persons who tested HIV positive and the rule is to enrol them on ART but unfortunately out of this 11,000 people, only 6,000 are on ART, according to our records, meaning that 5,000 are within our communities living with the untreated virus. This situation risks everyone of us because HIV can kill all of us if we don’t join hands,” he explained.
Dr Chimungu also expressed sadness that some communities were denying their children drugs.
“You are killing the innocent souls,” said Dr Chimungu.
Earlier, Kasamba health officer Grenda Sianatowe told the gathering that communities around the facility shun drugs once they test positive for HIV.
“Indeed AIDS is a condition which is affecting each and every one of us in one way or the other…. Guest of honour, it’s quite saddening that even with free ART provision readily available, we are still experiencing death cases related to AIDS in our communities,” said Sianatowe. “Guest of honour, we have babies who are denied the treatment by their caretakers, not forgetting poor adherence to treatment by some people while others even stop taking the lifelong drugs, a situation which challenge the goal of the ministry to have zero new infections by 2030.”
District commissioner Paradious Sakala expressed sadness that communities still take their ill relatives to traditional healers instead of hospitals.
He accused traditional healers of fueling enmity and hatred among communities and families.
“It makes sad reading that we still have people who can’t accept the condition they are in. It’s sad that we are still taking our relatives to witchdoctors who have in turn continued to destroy and bring confusion in our families and communities when health services are readily available,” Sakala said.
He urged people to know their statuses and start on ART if found HIV positive.
“Why do some of us refuse to start taking drugs? Who then will lose? The government, through Ministry of Health, is there to help us live long but we are refusing! Don’t you know that if you refuse to take drugs then you are reducing your own lifespan? You are reducing the years from your life,” Sakala said.
He also warned communities against marrying off young ones and sending young boys to herding cattle instead of going to school.
“Let’s educate our children than marrying them or sending them to herd cattle as doing so is attracting poverty in our families but if we educate them, then we are fighting poverty out,” said Sakala.
Meanwhile, during candlelight service at Grace Outreach Ministries on Friday night, pastor Kasongo said members of the clergy should not discourage
people from taking medication after praying for them.
“I have a message to us members of the clergy; we should not be telling the people after praying for them that ‘you shouldn’t take medication anymore because you are healed’. We all have different
roles, let’s pray for the sick but let’s also respect the prescriptions from the doctors,” he said.
Pastor Kasongo said there were some overzealous members of the clergy who tell people not to take medication.
And Chipata district administrative officer Kapembwa Sikazwe said it was sad that despite government and other stakeholders making HIV
testing and treatment services free and accessible some people are not willing to come forward and access the services.
Sikazwe, who graced the event, said one of the reasons why some people were not accessing HIV testing and treatment services was stigma.
He said according to the Chipata District Health Information Management Systems data, by the close of 2017, the number of people living with HIV in the district was 37,844 out of which 27,135 were on treatment.
Sikazwe urged people to go for HIV testing saying being positive does not mean suicide. Earlier in his sermon, Bishop Andrew Biemba, who is also Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Eastern Province secretary, said the biggest message that could be put across during candlelight service was to encourage people to go for HIV testing and to know their status. Bishop Biemba said God created the world for a purpose.
He said even if human beings sin, God had given them the right to choose between right and wrong.